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Patterns of freshwater biodiversity in Europe: lessons from the spring snail genus

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Aim  We analyse patterns of biodiversity in the spring snail genus Bythinella, a group of highly isolated and stenotopic freshwater species. We aim to test: (1) whether there are European areas of increased diversity (i.e. ‘hotspots’), (2) whether the potential hotspots inferred show qualitative differences in biodiversity characteristics such as endemicity, distinctiveness of taxa, age of lineages or degree of fragmentation, and (3) whether these hotspots match the Pleistocene refugia of Bythinella spp.

Location  Europe, Asia Minor.

Methods  The analyses are based on genetic data from 717 Bythinella specimens sampled at 194 sites. We used haplotypes as operational units in all analyses. To test hypothesis 1, mean pairwise genetic distances between Bythinella populations within each 1° × 1° geographical grid cell sampled in Europe were calculated. Within individual mountain ranges, grid cells with high diversity were grouped with neighbouring ones and hotspots were identified based on pre‐defined criteria. Then, to test hypothesis 2, different biodiversity indices of these regions were calculated and compared. Finally, to test hypothesis 3, the spatial distribution of the identified hotspots was compared with the known Pleistocene refugia of Bythinella spp.

Results  Five areas showed increased levels of genetic diversity: the Massif Central/Pyrenees, the western and eastern Alps, and the western and eastern Carpathians. These regions showed qualitative differences in biodiversity, with the eastern Carpathians holding the highest number of (endemic) haplotypes, the oldest and most distinct lineages and the highest degree of fragmentation. Only three of the five detected hotspots matched previously identified Pleistocene refugia for Bythinella spp.

Main conclusions  The genetic diversity of Bythinella spp. is not randomly distributed throughout Europe. Some of the hotspots we identify coincide with those found in other freshwater taxa; others have not previously been reported. Thus, spring organisms may reflect a unique evolutionary history that is distinct from lentic and lotic taxa. Our findings may be useful for conservation purposes even though the species‐level taxonomy of the genus is still under discussion.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Systematic Zoology and Biodiversity, Department of Animal Ecology and Systematics, Justus Liebig University, Heinrich-Buff-Ring 26-32, 35392 Giessen, Germany 2: Animal Ecology, Department of Ecology, Faculty of Biology, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch Straße 8, 35032 Marburg, Germany

Publication date: October 1, 2011


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